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11/03/2021

Former HGTV Producers Launch Digital Retail Service for Short-term Rentals

Web-based commerce marketplace provides guests with services typically found only in hotels making Airbnb and other similar short-term rentals more appealing.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Former HGTV producers Annie Sloan and Mikel Hubbard recently announced the launch of their new venture, The Host Co., a web-based commerce marketplace for short-term rentals. Designed for spaces like Airbnb, VRBO, and even Swimply, the service gives hosts the ability to add items for sale and increase revenue, while improving the guest experience.

The Host Co. adds the amenities guests receive at a hotel but have been missing from Airbnbs and other-short-term rentals. Guests have access to curated local goods they can ship home, such as artisanal foods, and delivery services like grocery delivery and rental car drop off. This transforms short-term rentals into more desirable destinations, connects and supports local makers, and addresses trending guest requests. Across the world, there are more than ten million short-term rentals. The Host Co. marketplace works for all of them.

“We bring the mini-bar and concierge to short-term rentals so guests can buy anything in the space from the snacks in the fridge to the art on the walls,” says Sloan, co-founder of The Host Co. “Shopping in rentals has always been needed and with this service we’re addressing that market gap.”

HOW IT WORKS

Developed using proprietary technology with theft protection built in, the service is free for hosts, who set up digital stores within the platform and determine the price of the items they wish to sell or stock. Guests receive a link to access their store before arrival and typically see a sign for the store (with a QR code) displayed in their Airbnb. When a guest opens the link, they can find items in the house that are for sale, local delivery services, and other local items to buy. Purchases can be made via credit card, Apple Pay, and PayPal. Hosts receive 93 percent of all store sales. The Host Co. earns only a small commission. 

During beta testing, 90% of guests visited their host’s store, especially when the host sent the link an hour after check in. About 40% of guests purchased products in month one. 

To find out more about this service, how it works, and how it could affect hotels, HT spoke with Annie Sloan, co-founder of The Host Co.

This concept seems to be based on the idea of luxury hotel concierge who can make anything happen for their VIP guest. Is that where the idea came from? How does it differ from what hotels can offer? 

This concept came about due to a hangover! Imagine being in an Airbnb, the morning after Coachella, and the place is already stocked with Advil and Gatorade. And snacks! 

My co-founder and I are both life-long travelers as well as professional Airbnb hosts so we know that guests really, really want to buy items out of our rentals. And we know that hosts want to make more money and create a better experience out of every booking. 

We started the platform to sell items in rentals, and it has evolved to include pre-order items as well as connections to nearby services. For example, “Get pizza delivered from our favorite pizza place” or “Get this great local honey shipped back home.” We also like to think of it this way: What is the one thing that everyone is carrying home on the plane? If you’re leaving Portland, Oregon for example, at least three people on the plane will be carrying Voodoo Doughnuts. So, soon our stores will show the service “Get Voodoo Doughnuts delivered to your Airbnb before you leave.”

Why are guests interested in this service? Why don't they just do the shopping themselves?

I think we’ve all been there: You arrive at an Airbnb and you love an item in the space. Or you unpack and realize you’ve forgotten something, like toothpaste or a phone charger. It’s much easier, and faster, to buy these items from your rental then to go out and find them. Plus, many rentals are in remote places, so having pre-stocked things like sunblock, sun hats, bottled water… these are always helpful. One of our rentals is in Death Valley and guests would have to drive 25 miles to buy anything. Plus, guests are able to access curated goods that they wouldn’t be able to shop for. We’ve found that guests love to buy things that help compliment and remember the experience, so for example firewood or paper spa masks for a good night in, or a mug or candle that they can take home to remember the trip. 

How does the technology work?

Our technology is elegantly simple… with lots of hidden bells and whistles! It is a marketplace platform similar to something like Poshmark. We help hosts create their custom stores and offer suggestions for local products and services to add to their store. We are web-based, so no downloading needed, and we work across all devices. It has been a really fascinating platform to create, since the majority of hosts are older (50+) and the majority of guests are 25-35. 

Our tech is very different from something you’d use at a hotel because it is all about the individual, unique host and their unique location. It’s the opposite of mass market since each host curates their own store much like they curate their rental.

How do you think this service will help short-term rentals compete with hotels?

As more people turn to short term rentals over hotels, our platform becomes a differentiator. We’re able to provide everything that guests might miss having from a traditional hotel stay such as the mini-bar, gift shop and concierge. Soon guests will even be able to order a mid-stay cleaning!